Health madness of "Mad Men"

John Taylor: April 09, 20130 Comments

In my section of New York City in the “Mad Men” 1960s era, both my primary care doc and my dentist smoked cigarettes in their offices as they treated me. OK, the dentist would wash his hands, but his breath reeked. When I was hospitalized for an appendectomy, I kept a diary in my bedside drawer – until some nosy intern found it, called in his friends and read it aloud. And my surgery was delayed because the doc was out Christmas shopping – he had his hands full of presents as he waltzed by me in my pre-surgery anesthetic haze.

For sure, it was a different age. And it wasn’t all bad – your doc knew you. Many made “house calls” to where you lived.  They came to family funerals. The editorial team at the Advisory Board has hiked into that history, framing the journey around the new season on the AMC show “Mad Men,” which chronicles the (changing) times and the excesses of Madison Avenue advertising executives and their families. (Truth is, one of my first jobs out of college was in a Madison Avenue PR firm in 1972.) Here's some of their research.

Back in the 1960s:

  • Doctors threw instruments with impunity, but not on TV because the scripts were vetted by the American Medical Association.
  • Nearly half of adult Americans smoked, but only one in nine was judged obese.
  • As a favor to friends --"just because" -- doctors would hospitalize a patient.
  • Nurses were “handmaidens” to doctors, and if they dared to talk back or challenge a course of treatment, they could be out of a job.

 

Specific to the show, the Advisory Board notes:

  • Pregnant characters like Betty can be seen both smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • When advertising magnate Roger Sterling has a heart attack, he recovers to resume eating steaks, smoking,  drinking and fooling around.
  • Nobody exercises, except for chasing extramarital sexual adventures.
  • There’s no patient confidentiality, with doctors freely telling spouses of characters their observations and findings.
  • And, lastly, one of my favorites, Betty scolds her young daughter for running around the house, with a plastic bag on her head, but not for wearing the bag. She fretted about her soiling her clothes.

Maybe some time I'll tackle health issues in “Downton Abbey,” but I didn't live through those.

 

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